Thursday, June 10, 2004

We only want to have to do this once

Abusing your children is bad. But IMO coaching them to say that the other parent has abused them is also abuse of the children, not to mention abuse of the legal system. Hence we see this.

See the girls cry in the picture. Of course they will - they're 4 years old, they don't know what Mommy is so upset about and they're about to leave with a near-stranger who would have had them aborted when he found out his "fling" was pregnant. If ever ignorance were bliss...

Was justice done? I doubt it - for two cents I'd say horsewhip Mom and Pop both and have the kids raised by a third party with no visitation for either. A pox on both houses!

Then again, the worst Daddy appears to have done is to have a change of heart. Once they were fit for nothing but scrap, in case someone could suck some stem cells out of them - write one check and they're medwaste, and he doesn't even have to divorce his wife. But now they're apparently healthy twin girls, potty trained and ready to show off. Little did their mother know that she was a surrogate.

Mother OTOH has not only lied and accused Daddy of something beyond the pale of civilization, but she's made it harder to convict the next creep who really is guilty. She's paying a huge price, but it still beats the years in prison suffered by the Amiraults and others when they were falsely accused.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

John Curulewski

Who? Well, some of you who lived near Chicago in the 1970's might have heard of him. He was one of the original 2 guitarists with Styx, which stormed out of the south side of Chicago to sell millions of records in the late 70's and early 80's. I'm not sure, but I think he's the genius behind the immortal "Plexiglas Toilet" song that they included without acknowledgement on one of their early albums.

Curulewski was there during the lean local years. He sang, played guitar and wrote some songs, along with fellow guitarist James Young (JY is the tall blondheaded one, who happens to be an engineer). Twins Chuck and John Panozzo played bass and drums respectively, and Dennis DeYoung was the keyboardist who wrote much of the music and sang most of the leads.

Yeah, they had a hit with "Lady", but that didn't come about until a couple of years after its album "Styx II" was released. Mostly they were a Chicago phenomenon, and they recorded on Wooden Nickel records. Good luck finding any of those albums. (Styx, Styx II, The Serpent is Rising, and Man of Miracles).

Then came their 5th album, Equinox. It had hits on the top 40 (Lorelei), AOR (Suite Madame Blue), an anthem (Light Up), and the rest were good too. It got them a national contract, and then Curulewski decided to leave the band to spend more time with his family.

That didn't exactly wreck the band - JC was replaced by Tommy Shaw, a blondeheaded singer/guitarist who the babes seemed to think was just too cute for words.

The band's first album after Curulewski, Crystal Ball, scored no hits. But then they released The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight and suddenly they were everywhere.

Did Curulewski regret missing the ride? We can't ask him - he's dead. Not a musician's death though, from drugs or an accident - he died of a brain aneurysm in 1988.

The rest of the band isn't doing so well either. John Panozzo is dead of alcoholism-related problems, Chuck Panozzo is HIV positive, and Dennis DeYoung has some sort of chronic condition that keeps him from touring much (near as I can tell he's not so easy to get along with either). So only the Mutt and Jeff singer-guitarists are left to carry the banner with some new guys.

Need a Styx fix? Check out Paradise Radio here.

Ted Nugent and Toby Keith in the war zones

Monday, June 07, 2004


WASHINGTON, June 6 — From the shores of Normandy to President Bush's campaign offices outside Washington, Mr. Bush and his political advisers embraced the legacy of Ronald Reagan on Sunday, suggesting that even in death, Mr. Reagan had one more campaign in him — this one at the side of Mr. Bush.
At last the truth can be told. Those ghoulish Republicans have had Mr. Reagan on life support for all these years. His last words were "Dick and Karl, sometime when the polls are bad and the breaks are beating the boys, pull the plug and let the Gipper win one for you".

< /sarcasm off>Memo to NYT - the man died after years with a miserable illness. Even John Kerry managed to say something respectful without choking to death on the words. Can't you lay off long enough for the corpse to cool a couple of degrees? Don't you have some biases to deny?

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Data mining ramblings

Rob expresses concern about potential govt abuse of information here. I agree in principle, but then I followed the link. The concern is about what is called "data mining". Now watch as I attempt to do some justice to such a vast and interesting field in a blog length post.

One source defines data mining as "the process of finding new and potentially useful knowledge from data". That's not too specific - let me try another angle. Historically we've gathered data in response to a specific need. Nowadays we have scads of data collected for innumerable purposes and we're attempting to learn from it in ways not anticipated when it was collected. IOW we're reusing others' data. Doing so effectively often requires a different way of thinking with new tools and methodologies, and it's new enough that definitions as vague as the above will have to do for now.

You can find any number of books attempting to describe data mining. Let me assure you that in many cases it is a lot like trying to draw conclusions about individual cattle by examining products from McDonalds. You can't. The best you can do is create a list of cattle like the ones you're eating.

The scope of application is almost limitless, but let's take it down to earth with an example of an application in a marketing context. XCo wanted to cross-market various products and they were looking for the most effective ways of identifying prospects. They went through millions of records for people who had bought various products and augmenting that with information available from other sources. Then analyses of the sales and demographic information permitted assigning various coordinates to the customers.

Concocting these coordinates well is something of a black art performed by experienced modelers. Consider "cluster analysis", for instance. You'll start with some customer information. You'll use it to construct some orthogonal "dimensions", conceptually not unlike the rectangular (Cartesian) coordinates from your calculus class. This is done by by powerful computers (big Unix boxes usually, but sometimes mainframes or others) using sophisticated software like SAS.

The "value" of any of these dimensions might be very complex functions of the customer data. Here is an example which is totally artificial but which gives a bit of the flavor: arbitrary coordinate value=.003*(owns a house)+ .044*(reads Wall Street Journal) -.34*(plays the horses) + .28*(went on a cruise in the last 5 years) + .00082*(household income) +.9*(number of cars owned). The form of these equations varies with the data available and the type of modeling chosen by the modeler. Incidentally, there is no "right" answer for the models, and different modelers would come up with different models - what's important is how well they predict consumer behavior.

Alright, now you've come up with several dimensions like the one above and you "plot" (conceptually) where your customers fall in the "space". If your data was relevant and you've developed a good set of dimensions, hopefully you'll find that your customers are "clustered" around certain sets of coordinates. (you'd like to see "clouds" to study instead of a uniform fog, so to speak).

A lot of effort has gone into studying such marketing clusters. For an example of of some identified by a major consumer research organization, look here. IMO it is clear that these different groups of people exist in a meaningful sense and will respond differently to marketing initiatives. In particular, some will be more profitable than others for a given firm, so effective marketers will take these factors into account. But those are generic classifications, and the more specific classifications that might arise from a well-crafted model are more useful for a particular firm.

For instance, suppose you're interested in cross-marketing product A with product B. Generic models cannot have taken your sales for these products by customer into account if only because you wouldn't release such detailed information. But with your own model, you'd look at the coordinates for the customers which have bought A and B. Then you'd look at the ones who had bought only one of the two to see which ones were closest to the ones who had bought both. Then you'd concentrate on those people to try to sell them the product they didn't already have.

The final deliverable in this example might be a list of names of existing customers who were most likely to respond to your initiative based on their past purchase activity and other characteristics. The results are transmitted to the sales force/direct mail/telemarketers/whatever for further action. They report on their results, and this information is used to refine future models.

(Don't let the above suggest that applications of data mining are limited to marketing. These are limited primarily by imagination and the availability of data. I'm particularly interested in those related to genetics, medicine, and bioinformatics.)

So what did we get for our trouble? Marketing costs are lower and the customers most likely to be interested are the ones contacted. Consumers get fewer solicitations, and the ones they get are more likely to be interesting. Everybody wins. Sheesh, is this something to fuss about?

Maybe not, in the commercial arena. But what about putting such information in govt hands? Outside of models which do not consider personal information, such as the Consumer Price Index or perhaps the distribution of variations of the human genome?

Hmm. Ask yourself this question - will the lack of good information prevent the govt from creating models? No, of course not. They'll just make lousier models, with more "misses" and "false positives" than they would have otherwise, and the resulting policies will be less useful and more expensive.

One can argue if the creation and use of such models with the intent of applying the results to individuals is justifiable by the govt. If a marketer uses it, about the worst outcome is a telemarketer phone call, while upsides might include special interest rate offers and other deals that might be interesting. But IMO the govt's powers and its obligations to treat all citizens equally under the law add complications that render almost anything it does with such modeling inherently suspect IMO.

Do I have a conflict of interest? Yep - that's why I know about stuff like this. I'm currently in the DC area, so govt work in this area potentially represents money in my pocket. Anyway, take it for what you paid for it...

Samaritan Virus

It's only fair that there should be some sort of virus that makes cancer cells sick.

Title and link stolen from Gene Expression

Eating the mossback's lunch

Yes, Richard Bennett, there is such a thing as race.

How do I know? Because some of us check one box on govt forms and some check others. That might well be the only difference in some peoples' views of the world, but so long as the govt decrees that such differences exist and behaves accordingly, race will exist as a practical matter.

And isn't it interesting that, if you analyze various characteristics of populations of people who check one of these blanks vs those who check others, one reaches the kinds of conclusions discussed provocatively at Gene Expression and in books like "The Bell Curve".

Are these people checking the wrong boxes? Then the gaps observed should not exist - they should disappear into a fog of statistical noise. Thus although there may be no clear-cut genetic distinction between these groups (for which I fault genetics, not any inherent flaws with the way people choose the boxes), we've stumbled onto a classification that looks a lot like what is casually referred to as "race". Under such circumstances claiming that race doesn't exist is at best sophistry.

"Racist" and "racism" are epithets. Mr. Bennett's use of them in this context deserve no more respect than if he'd been writing of "niggers".

Maryland Dancesport Championships in Baltimore this weekend

You've never seen DanceSport? Check it out - it's an interesting combination of art and athleticism that is accessible to about anyone yet can be refined to a professional level. (Like the picture? Meet the performers here).

I'm sitting this one out, but those of us toiling in the low end of the talent hierarchy will start competing on Thursday. The climax is Saturday night when the professionals compete in rhythm, Latin and standard. You'll see why they call it a sport and why it may someday be included in the Olympics.

So you don't know anything about DanceSport? I think you'll enjoy watching no matter what, especially if I aim low. Guys, if you think professional cheerleaders are hot you haven't seen jack - here you'll probably be closer than front row at the stadium watching some hot toned women perform some incredible routines. All the women have to look good at the pro level, and if you're a leg or butt man you'd better bring a bib.

Ladies, beyond the show itself it's an excuse to dress up for an evening and there might be chances to dance between events. By turns it's sophisticated, exciting and romantic and even erotic, and it's not super-expensive. Although a lot of the pros don't speak English well, they're very accessible when they're not actually competing or preparing. And don't even tell me that you don't check out the men.

But if you want to know more, as a rough guide I've posted about it here, here and here. There's more here.

For more information about the Maryland Dancesport Championships see this site.

And if you're in the Cleveland area, get ready for the NorthCoast championships from June 24 through 27.

Me too

More than one person has pointed to this - I don't recall who to credit. Probably the Corner or Glenn Reynolds. But in case you've missed it, check out the following, which was the intro to a review of a show in NY:
"No U.S. president, I expect, will ever appoint a Secretary of the Imagination. But if such a cabinet post ever were created, and Richard Foreman weren't immediately appointed to it, you'd know that the Republicans were in power. Republicans don't believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don't give a hoot about human beings, either can't or won't. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.
This opinion is presumably not shared by Foreman; you can gauge the breadth of his imaginative compassion from his willingness to extend it even toward George W. Bush, idiot scion of a genetically criminal family that should have been sterilized three generations ago."
Good grief - has this guy had his shots?

Graceless creep

On the death of President Ronald Reagan, Danny Glover had this to say: 'We all know Reagan's legacy, from the Iran-Contra affair to the funding of the Nicaraguan military in which over 200,000 people died. The groundwork for the move steadily to the right happened with the Reagan administration. People want to elevate him to some mythic level; they have their own reason for doing that.'Yeah, maybe because he showed that some actors can hold defensible political positions.